Straight Lines and Ellipses

Representational painting can be pretty tough; I could talk about the difficulties ad nauseam. Instead, I wanted to offer advice in overcoming two very common problems faced by painters: Straight Lines, and Ellipses.

Of course the knee-jerk reaction to straight lines is to use a ruler or some other straight-edge. However, once you try to follow a ruler with a brush full of paint you’ll realize how impractical this device is for our purposes. Another option is taping or masking areas to create straight lines. Again this works, but the results are far from perfect. Taped lines will give you a very hard edge (better suited for the trim in your bedroom than a piece of fine art).  Both a ruler and a mask may give you a straight line, but not without a lot of extra work to make it what you want.

The answer is even simpler. Just look down the painting at an extreme angle. It’s tough to represent this in photographs, but see the following images of a still life in progress at two different angles.

One need only put themselves at this position to observe the line in an extreme compression (foreshortening). Blemishes and deviations will become immediately clear. Make an adjustment, recheck, repeat. You’ll have a satisfactory straight line in no time, without the hassle of restating the edges as if you used tape or a ruler.

And it’s not just straight lines that will reveal themselves here; those dreadful ellipses will jump out at you too. As is known, the ellipse should never look like a football (with pointed ends), and it shouldn’t necessarily be an oval either. It’s supposed to look like a perfect circle viewed at an angle. The effect of this extreme compression on your ellipse will reveal issues pertaining to symmetry. If it’s working, your object will take on a more cylindrical appearance. The opening of the vase here (work in progress) gives a good example. This ellipse is pretty good (not perfect yet…), but it only arrived here after lots of angled viewing and correcting.

Just like checking your painting in a mirror, looking at it upside down, using a dark-mirror, squinting, standing on one foot (…), looking down the painting at an angle is a helpful and organic way of checking your work. By all means, use whatever devices you have at your disposal, but I find it’s often the simplest approach which lends the best results.

Comments (1)

  1. 10:43 pm, October 17, 2012Efrat Amir  / Reply

    Wow!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us all. Personally I would really appreciate any tips you could share.
    Your generosity of spirit is appreciated.
    Efrat Amir

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